Not a lot was expected of Midwestern State last year. The Mustangs were picked to finish fifth in the LSC South division and received just three votes in the AFCA preseason poll - 50 teams received more attention by the coaches than MSU. The Mustangs must have taken it personally. They opened the season with four wins, dominating their opponents by a 176-16 margin. The next three weeks saw MSU drop two games, each by last minute field goals. They got back on track with four more wins, including victories over ranked Texas A&M-Kingsville and Abilene Christian. Their "reward" was a rematch with ACU. The Wildcats took that one 24-21, despite being outgained by MSU 394-257. ACU returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a TD, and turned two MSU turnovers into 10 ACU points.
It was a bitter end to an otherwise great season - the shared LSC championship was the school's first LSC football title. The Mustangs led the LSC in scoring offense (34.9 points per game) and defense (13.6). They were third in yards gained (426.8) and second in yards allowed (312.5). The offense was balanced - fourth in rushing (144 yds) and third in passing (283 yds). The defense was good against the run (111 yds, sixth) and downright stingy against the pass (202 yds, first). Eight Mustangs were voted to the LSC South first team, three to the second team, and eight named honorable mention.
Out with the old
The Mustangs lost a lot of talented players. Andy Tanner set single season records for receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns and is now in the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints training camp. The line will be missing starters Lance Calloway (1st LSC South), Matt Hanson (2nd LSC South), Dillon Sullivan (HM LSC South) and Clifton Washington. Running back Bee Jay Mathis and tight end J.J. Ford (1st LSC South) will also be missed. Mathis (2nd LSC South) was third in the LSC in punt returns (13.5 yds) and seventh in kick returns (21.5 yds).
Defensively, three starters on the line are gone - Sharod Basey (1st LSC South), Stephen Turner (2nd LSC South), and Austin Shields (HM LSC South) combined for 111 tackles, 11 for losses and 5.5 sacks. LB Emmanuel Bagley (HM LSC South) was second on the team with 73 tackles. The secondary was also hit hard, losing Micah Hill (1st LSC South), Danny Jackson (1st LSC South), Brandon Williams (HM LSC South) and Antoine Cumby - 179 tackles, 9 interceptions, and 19 passes broken up between them.
You have to start with quarterback Zack Eskridge. Eskridge (1st LSC South) set single season records with 3,295 passing yards and 29 TDs and led the NCAA in passing efficiency with a 180.75 rating. He also holds the MSU career mark with 47 TD passes, and needs 616 yards to pass Phillip Boggs for the lead in passing yards. Eskridge was named the LSC South academic player of the year, was a Harlon Hill finalist, and is the LSC South Preseason offensive player of the year. His top targets this season look to be Sheldon Galloway (HM LSC South) who had 52 receptions for 642 yards and 5 TDs and David Little who had 33 catches for 556 yards and 3 TDs. Marcus Mathis (HM LSC South) returns at running back - he rushed for 480 yards in 2009. Hank Gilley is the lone full time starter returning on the line, but Bradley Dittmar, Brandon Washington, Bobby Parsons and Travis Veitenheimer also saw action last year.
For the defense, starter K.K. Francis and reserves Kevin Birdow and J.D. Corcoran are the most experience linemen returning. Matt Ellerbrock started 10 games at linebacker and racked up 58 tackles, with 10.5 for loss. Ty Duncan and Pat Gardner also saw quite a bit of action. In the secondary, Austin McDaniel (HM LSC South) and Ryan Craven are the returning starters.
Jose Martinez was 40-44 on PATs and 13-18 on FGs, good for fifth in scoring with 79 points. He is also the punter, averaging 35.2 yds per punt.
In with the new
Western Illinois transfer Justin Rideau will give Eskridge another target to throw to. Several transfers have been recruited to help the depleted offensive line - Fonda White, Aminiasi Silatolu and Jared Reed should be ready to make an impact. The defensive line also gets several new experienced players - Tim McGill (Eastern Arizona), Justin Flowers and Alton Lee (both from Pearl River CC) should step into the rotation. For the secondary, look for Damien Washington (Trinity Valley CC), Jeremy Smith (Pearl River CC) and Patrick Allen (Pierce College).
All Conference Candidates
QB - Zack Eskridge
RB - Marcus Mathis
WR - Sheldon Galloway, Justin Rideau
OL - Hank Gilley, Fonda White, Aminiasi Silatolu
DL - Tim McGill
DB - Austin McDaniel, Damien Washington
K - Jose Martinez
All American Candidates
QB - Zack Eskridge
10/9 - ACU - First really big challenge for the Mustangs comes in game 6
10/23 - West Texas A&M - Mustangs were the last team to defeat WTAM
10/30 - Tarleton State - tough homecoming game, Mustangs will look to avenge last years defeat
11/6 - Texas A&M-Kingsville - MSU owns a 5 game winning streak over the Javelinas, this game could be for a playoff spot
Best Case Scenario
10-1 As mentioned earlier, the first five games for MSU should allow them to play a lot of guys, giving them experience and keeping the team healthy and fresh for the division run. If Eskridge can maintain his level of play and the offensive line can gel, the offense should be as good as last year. The defense has a lot of holes to fill, but it appears that they have brought in players with the experience to get it done.
Worst Case Scenario
6-5 If the offensive line is not up to last year's level, the running game could suffer and teams can key in on Eskridge. His performance could suffer if a go-to receiver does not emerge. It may be too much to ask of the defense to replace so many starters, especially facing the offenses of the LSC South.